Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Libraries

Public libraries are increasingly turning to cloud computing solutions to satisfy their technological needs in order to best serve patrons, while simultaneously taking advantage of new opportunities for cost savings, flexibility, and enhanced data management. These cloud services are typically provided by third parties who have built robust solutions to help libraries deliver resources, services, and expertise efficiently, and encourage patrons to socialize and leverage the power of the community of users. Examples of cloud computing platforms for libraries include OCLC WorldShareEx Libris Alma, and BiblioCommons.

The use of cloud computing in libraries, however, has the potential to disrupt longstanding ethical norms within librarianship dedicated to protecting patron privacy. While librarians have historically engaged in professional practices that limit retention of patron data and protected confidentiality, cloud computing platforms are largely based on the tracking, collection, and aggregation of user data.

In 2015, CIPR engaged in a pilot research study to help us understand how libraries are implementing third-party cloud computing services, how these implementations might impact patron privacy, and how libraries are responding to these concerns. The pilot study focused on 38 libraries who implemented BiblioCommons, and the results were published in the Journal of Intellectual Freedom & Privacy, offering insights to guide the development of a set of best practices for future implementations of cloud-based Library 2.0 platforms in public library settings.

TODO: Link to FAQ

January 2015 update: Dr. Michael Zimmer has posted some personal reflections on the project at his website.

July 2017 Update: The results of the pilot study, focusing on 38 libraries who implemented BiblioCommons, have now been published in the Journal of Intellectual Freedom & Privacy, co-authored by Katie Chamberlain Kritikos and CIPR director Michael Zimmer.  Details here.